Hail Caesar (1994)

Did you know Anthony Michael Hall is also an accomplished musician?

It’s true.

His “band,” Hall of Mirrors, issued a lone album through Hall’s own vanity impress, RAM Recordings. Welcome to the Hall of Mirrors, a 1999 studio project, features thirteen tracks that Hall wrote, sang, and produced — and played all the guitars, bass, and drums. Guest assisting him in the studio was former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke (who put out a pretty cool glam-pop album with Candy, Whatever Happened to Fun; sound like sloppy-polished the Replacements, then there’s the harder-edged Kills For Thrills) and Prince’s former keyboardist, Tommy Barbarell.

What’s it sound like? Well, if “fuzzy funk-jazz” is a thing, that’s sums it up.

In an online podcast with (defunct) “Hollywood Spotlight” at Real Hollywood, at the time of the time of the CD’s release, Hall stated he was “a fan of everything from Rage Against the Machine, to Green Day, to Puffy Daddy, and has ‘diverse tastes,’ with a love of classic rock, R&B, and funk from the ‘70s.” Hall’s work on the album was long-gestating, since the early ’90s, as four of the songs from the album appeared in Hall’s directorial effort, Hail Caesar, which doubled as the music for the film’s Julius Caesar MacGruder’s band, Hail Caesar.

The plot — devised by family television showrunner and writer Bob Mittenthal (Double Dare, Rugrats, Robotboy, and It’s Pony) — Hail Caesar tells the story of the trials and tribulations of Julius MacGruder trying to score a recording contract (from Robert Downey, Jr.’s record executive). To make ends meet, Julius works in a . . . pencil eraser factory . . . managed by . . . Frank “The Joker” Gorshin. While there, Julius meets Buffer Bidwell (Bobbie Phillips of the abysmal Showgirls from 1995 and the 1998 remake of Carnival of Souls), the boss’s daughter . . . and romance blooms . . . to the chagrin of the factory’s owner, Mr. Bidwell (Nicholas Prior of The Gumball Rally fame). Wanting rid of Julius from his daughter’s life, Bidwell makes a bet with the ne’er-do-well rocker that he knows the slick-slacker will never honor: make $100,000 in six months; if he does, he can marry Buffer, if not, he’s banished.

Since Hall was firmly established at this point and made a lot a friends in the business, he was able to call in favors and secure the services of his past co-stars in Robert Downey, Jr. (the 1988 sports comedy Johnny Be Good) and Judd Nelson (1985’s The Breakfast Club), and, in a very early, pre-stardom role as a postman, Samuel L. Jackson. (The caveat: each are not around for long.)

In proof that everyone in Hollywood has to start somewhere: The cinematographer here is Adam Kane, who would go on to lens The Boondock Saints and TV’s Grey’s Anatomy. The editor, Jack Turner, also worked on A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, but his work dates back to the blaxploitation classic, Petey Wheatstraw. And, yes, the producer here, Steven Paul, is the same Steven Paul who made bank with the Ghost Rider, Baby Genius, and Stallone’s The Expendables franchises.

If you need more fake rock bands, we cover ’em in our “Ten Bands Made Up for Movies” featurette.

So, enough with the film trivia. What do I think about the film?

Well, I didn’t think I’d ever find another rock ‘n’ roll flick more deserving of the blue screen of death as Corey Feldman’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School Forever (1994) — yes, there’s a sequel to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (!) — and I did just that. Yeah, Hail Caesar is another one of those coveted rock ‘n roll obscurities that was poorly distributed; so, in lieu of seeing it on cable (it was made exclusively for Showtime) or as a Blockbuster rental, my first exposure was picking up a cutout bin copy. So much much for that $2.00; I could have had a McNuggets sixer and a small Dr. Pepper. Hey, I love indie-quirky, as Ed and His Dead Mother and Trees Lounge are two of my favorite, oddball VHSers, but not this time. Sorry.

While I really dig Hall’s quirky compositional style, which has an off-kiltered Crispin Glover vibe (see Glover’s “Dance Etiquette” by his studio project The Uncalled Four, which appeared in the 1994 comedy Twister), for a “rock ‘n’ roll movie,” the music really isn’t all that “rock,” and there’s just not enough of it (to hold my rock ‘n’ radio interests). In fact, even with all of the familiar, established actors in the cast (who’ve done far better work), the proceedings are all snooze-enducing boring and a wee-bit too hammy (especially by Downey; Gorshin is just sad as can be), with a lot of flat-as-a-worn out-eraser humor. Maybe if this was a Pauly Shore joint . . . or Adam Sandler did the ol’ immature adult routine with that annoying baby-talk voice he does . . . maybe if it was done as an animated feature . . . or cast with tween actors for Bob Mittenthal’s old Nickelodeon home base. . . .

Let’s put it this way: This is the second time I’ve watched Hail Ceasar since finding that VHS cutout all those years ago. And I dozed off on it back then (and it took a month to finish it) . . . and I fast-forwarded though it today, so as to refresh my memory to pull together this review. And if not for this being another “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week,” you wouldn’t be reading this final sentence. . . .

Courtesy of You Tuber Jok3r Girl, you can listen to four of Hall’s songs that appear in the film: “What U Feel,” “Dance for Me,” “Crazy World,” and “Blue Jam.” Another song in the film, that’s not on the later CD, is “Love Is.” You can watch Hail Caesar as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook.

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